Written by Kate Kelsall
Valerie Graham is almost en route to her new home in southern California. It has been a great privilege to know Valerie as a friend, colleague and mentor for the past seven years. We were introduced by mutual friends, and we first met over pie and coffee in the spring of 2006. We both had Parkinson’s and both had gone through DBS. We felt there was a strong need for a group that would provide a safe haven where those with questions about DBS and those with personal experiences about DBS could exchange information. Within months, we formed the DBS support group, now currently called the Bionic Brigade, with our first meeting being in October 2006, and we’ve been going strong ever since.
A year later we created volunteer positions at the University of Colorado Hospital which allowed us to work directly with patients and their families through the lengthy pre- and post-surgical periods in our roles of patient and family liaisons.
In 2010, we traveled to Scotland for the World Parkinson’s Congress. It took us more than a day to reach our ultimate destination, flying from Denver to Chicago, Chicago to London, and London to Glasgow. Among the biggest hurdles we faced were the seemingly endless concourses at Heathrow and the long lines passing through security and customs. And upon arrival in Scotland we were confused and asked frequent questions of the hotel staff such as what time was it, was it day time or night time, what day of the week was it. Let’s just say that if we were tested by our neurologists, we would have certainly failed the mental status exam.
Valerie has a long list of accomplishments. Some of them include: She was featured as an inspirational person with Parkinson’s on the David Phinney Foundation website, wrote and got published her article, Fate Lends a Helping Hand on the Parkinson’s Alliance website, was appointed the Congressional Coordinator for the 6th Congressional District of Colorado on behalf of the Parkinson’s Action Network, received the KMGH Channel 7 television’s “Everyday Hero” award along with Kate that recognized outstanding local volunteers, participated in the 2nd Clinical Research Learning Institute in New Jersey and formed a Colorado nonprofit corporation, DBS Voices of the Rockies. Her more recent accomplishments include the publication of her article, Miracles Do Happen, and her video entitled My Letter to Dear Abi which will be receiving an Honorable Mention award at the World Parkinson’s Congress in Montreal in October of this year.
Throughout much of the time when Valerie was so active in the PD and DBS communities, she also experienced numerous DBS-related complications. Despite these challenges, she remained tenacious, optimistic and hopeful.
The following written by Amanda Bradley reminds me of Valerie: “Some people seem to specialize in doing thoughtful deeds. Before you ask, they understand your problems and your needs. They help because they want to. They find joy in being kind. And making others happy is the first thing on their minds. They make this world a better place by practicing the art of reaching out to others and by giving from the heart.”
Thank you so much, Valerie, for giving from the heart. May you always be as happy as you make others. Colorado’s PD and DBS communities’ loss is California’s gain. We’ll miss you, Valerie, and wish you well.